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  • The first CFP ranking is right around the corner, and while Alabama and Clemson will find themselves in familiar spots, Week 8 showed us that Michigan has the defense to remain in the mix longer than the other Big Ten challengers.
By Scooby Axson
October 22, 2018

With the first College Football Playoff rankings set to be revealed next week, not much has been settled around the country aside from Clemson and Alabama’s inside track on return trips to the final four. But no matter how the season unfolds from here, Week 8 was a pretty good time to be wearing maize and blue.

While prolific offenses have propelled other contenders toward the top of the polls, Michigan’s defense has done the dirty work for the Wolverines. The Wolverines completely shut down Michigan State in a heated rivalry renewal—it took a trick play for the Spartans to find the end zone—on the same day that Ohio State collapsed defensively at Purdue. That combination means that for now, the Big Ten’s most interesting playoff threat resides in Ann Arbor.

The Wolverines now lead the nation in total yards allowed and passing defense, and they rank in the top 10 in rushing defense, scoring defense and opponent passing efficiency. And they’re not just dominant by the traditional numbers: Bill Connelly’s S&P+ ratings, predictive metrics that factor in explosiveness and efficiency, have Michigan as the nation’s No. 1 defense through Week 8.

The offense is finding its footing under transfer quarterback Shea Patterson and has given fans a reason for optimism that the Wolverines are balanced enough to reach their first Big Ten championship game. Michigan State will not be the last rival keen on pulling out all the stops to keep Michigan from finishing atop the league’s East division.

Now, let’s get to the rankings:

1. Alabama (8–0, 5–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 1
This week: Beat Tennessee, 58–21
Next week: Bye; next game Nov. 3 at LSU

The Crimson Tide have scored a touchdown on their first possession in each of the season’s first eight games, often with brutal efficiency, always followed by a flurry of points from then on. LSU’s defense has the best chance of anyone to stop that streak in two weeks.

2. Notre Dame (7–0)

Previous ranking: 3
This week: Bye
Next week: vs. Navy at San Diego

3. Clemson (7–0, 4–0 ACC)

Previous ranking: 4
This week: Beat NC State, 41–7
Next week: at Florida State

What was thought to be an ACC test for Clemson was anything but as the Tigers strengthened their lead in the Atlantic division by throttling the Wolfpack. Trevor Lawrence threw for 308 yards and a touchdown, and the defense shut down veteran NC State quarterback Ryan Finley, pressuring him all game and picking him off twice. Lead running back Travis Etienne was largely held in check (15 carries, 39 yards), he did score three short-distance touchdowns.

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4. Michigan (7–1, 5–0 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 5
This week: Beat Michigan State, 21–7
Next week: Bye; next game Nov. 3 vs. Penn State

Michigan snapped a 17-game losing streak on the road against ranked opponents that stretched back to 2006 by dominating its in–state rival. The Spartans came into the game with the nation’s top rush defense but gave up 183 yards to the Wolverines, including 144 to Karan Higdon. The Michigan defense held Michigan State to just 94 total yards of offense, including a pitiful 5-for-25, 66-yard passing effort by quarterback Brian Lewerke.

5. LSU (7–1, 4–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: 6
This week: Beat Mississippi State, 19–3
Next week: Bye; next game Nov. 3 vs. Alabama

Most other teams with the issues that LSU has offensively would be struggling to reach bowl eligibility. But the Tigers have an outstanding defense to cover up those shortcomings, and a showdown with top-ranked Alabama on Nov. 3 in Baton Rouge will reveal how much weight that unit can carry. LSU will have to stay competitive early on without star linebacker Devin White, who was controversially ejected for targeting late against the Bulldogs and will miss the first half against the Crimson Tide.

6. Georgia (6–1, 4–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: 8
This week: Bye
Next week: vs. Florida at Jacksonville

7. UCF (7–0, 4–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: 7
This week: Beat East Carolina, 37–10
Next week: Bye; next game Nov. 1 at Temple

No McKenzie Milton, no problem. The Knights’ Heisman darkhorse QB was held out because of an ankle injury, but backup Darriel Mack Jr. came in and did damage on the ground, carrying it 22 times for 120 yards. The passing game never got going and UCF was penalized 14 times, but the defense’s five forced turnovers helped overcome that sloppiness.

8. Texas (6–1, 4–0 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 9
This week: Bye
Next week: at Oklahoma State

9. Oklahoma (6–1, 3–1 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 10
This week: Beat TCU, 52–27
Next week: vs. Kansas State

All eyes were on the Sooners’ defense after Mike Stoops was given his walking papers following the loss to Texas. That unit responded well by allowing a season-low 275 yards to a struggling TCU offense that switched quarterbacks mid-game. Kyler Murray only passed for 213 yards but had four touchdowns, and the running game rolled up 323 yards (but lost Trey Sermon to an injury) for Oklahoma’s fifth straight win over the Horned Frogs. The Sooners still haven’t lost consecutive regular season games this century.

10. Ohio State (7–1, 4–1 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 2
This week: Lost to Purdue, 49–20
Next week: Bye; next game Nov. 3 vs. Nebraska

The Buckeyes have the bye week to fix everything that’s ailing them, starting with a stagnant running game and a defense that gives up too many big plays. When your quarterback throws the ball 73 times and you’re not Washington State, something has gone horribly wrong. A Big Ten title and other postseason goals are still within reach, but Ohio State must get those issues fixed.

11. Washington (6–2, 4–1 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 7
This week: Beat Colorado, 27–13
Next week: at California

Both the Huskies and Buffaloes were missing their stars on Saturday, as Washington played without running back Myles Gaskin because of a shoulder injury and Colorado wideout Laviska Shenault sat out due to a toe injury. The Huskies picked up the slack on the ground, running for 201 yards to support quarterback Jake Browning’s 150 yards and a touchdown. Oregon’s loss puts Washington back on level pegging with the top half of a crowded Pac-12 North.

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12. Florida (6–1, 4–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: 16
This week: Bye
Next week: vs. Georgia at Jacksonville

13. Texas A&M (5–2, 3–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: 14
This week: Bye
Next week: at Mississippi State

14. Penn State (5–2, 2–2 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 15
This week: Beat Indiana, 33–28
Next week: vs. Iowa

Trace McSorley had 329 total yards and two rushing touchdowns to help the Nittany Lions break a two-game losing skid. Indiana blew several chances to add to Penn State’s misery with its mistakes, turning the ball over three times and stopping potential scoring drives with penalties. The Nittany Lions’ defense recorded six sacks, and running back Miles Sanders had 72 yards on the ground. Penn State now must deal with Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin in the upcoming weeks.

15. Kentucky (6–1, 4–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: 16
This week: Beat Vanderbilt, 14–7
Next week: at Missouri

Benny Snell Jr. ran for 169 yards and broke a tie midway through the fourth quarter with a seven-yard score to secure Kentucky’s third straight win over Vanderbilt. The Wildcats got virtually nothing from quarterback Terry Wilson, who threw the ball nine times for 18 yards, but his five-yard TD pass in the second quarter did provide the first points for a stagnant offense. Kentucky has not exceeded 330 yards of offense in its last four games.

16. West Virginia (5–1, 3–1 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 17
This week: Bye
Next week: vs. Baylor

17. Wisconsin (5–2, 3–1 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 18
This week: Beat Illinois, 49–20
Next week: at Northwestern

In a game played in wild weather that included both a brief snowstorm and crystal-clear skies, Wisconsin used five first-half turnovers to win its 16th straight game against a Big Ten West opponent. Running back Jonathan Taylor had 159 yards on 27 carries and has still not been held below double digits in a game this season, while streaky quarterback Alex Hornibrook counteracted his two interceptions with three touchdowns.

18. Washington State (6–1, 3–1 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat Oregon, 34–20
Next week: at Stanford

Washington State’s defense came to play on a hotly anticipated night in Pullman, holding Oregon’s offense to season-lows in points, rushing yards and total yards. Graduate transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew II threw four touchdowns, helping the Cougars beat the Ducks for the fourth year in a row.

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19. Iowa (6–1, 3–1 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat Maryland, 23–0
Next week: at Penn State

Don’t look now, but Iowa is a legitimate threat to Wisconsin in the Big Ten West. The Hawkeyes smothered Maryland, allowing the Terps to pick up only 115 total yards and seven first downs. It also helps to hold the ball for almost 41 minutes, as the Hawkeyes did. Ivory Kelly-Martin grinded out 98 tough rushing yards, and the defense pitched in on the scoring front, too.

20. Oregon (5–2, 2–2 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 11
This week: Lost to Washington State, 34–20
Next week: at Arizona

A 27–0 halftime deficit proved to be way too much to overcome against a motivated division rival. Quarterback Justin Herbert threw a touchdown pass for the 22nd straight game to extend the nation’s longest streak, but he was sacked three times and didn’t get much help from the running game, which had gained at least 130 yards in every game this year but was held to only 58 against the Cougars.

21. Houston (6–1, 3–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat Navy, 49–36
Next week: vs. South Florida

22. Utah (5–2, 3–2 SEC)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat USC, 41–28
Next week: at UCLA

Don’t be fooled: Utah beat up USC more than the respectable final margin indicates. The Trojans jumped out to a 14–0 lead, thanks in part to a fumble returned for a touchdown, but struggled the rest of the game, finishing with only 205 total yards and 3.8 yards per play and going just 3-of-14 on third down. The Utes have scored 40 or more points in three straight games for the first time in eight years.

23. South Florida (6–0, 2–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: 23
This week: Beat UConn, 38–30
Next week: at Houston

24. NC State (5–1, 2–1 ACC)

Previous ranking: 20
This week: Lost to Clemson, 41–7
Next week: at Syracuse

NC State needs to process this loss, which got out of hand early, and move forward because it is still in play for a major bowl game with a manageable schedule ahead. The ACC’s leading passer Ryan Finley could only manage 156 yards on the Tigers’ elite defense, which is not nearly enough to mask the Wolfpack’s subpar run game.

25. Miami (FL) (5–2, 2–1 ACC)

Previous ranking: 25
This week: Bye
Next week: at Boston College

By conference: SEC (6), Big Ten (5), Pac-12 (4), ACC (3), Big 12 (3), AAC (3), Independent (1).

Dropped out: Cincinnati, Duke, Mississippi State, Colorado.

Maybe next week: Stanford, Utah State, Texas Tech, Appalachian State, Virginia.

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